Saturday 24 January 2015


“Let none weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.” - Quintus Ennius

For Music Saturday a masterwork by Giuseppe Verdi, his incomparable “Messa da Requiem” (Requiem Mass). A Requiem Mass, also known as Mass for the dead (Latin: Missa pro defunctis) or Mass of the dead (Latin: Missa defunctorum), is a Mass in the Catholic Church offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons, using a particular form of the Roman Missal. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral.

Musical settings of the propers of the Requiem Mass are also called Requiems, and the term has subsequently been applied to other musical compositions associated with death and mourning, even when they lack religious or liturgical relevance. The term is also used for similar ceremonies outside the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the Anglo-Catholic branch of Anglicanism and in certain Lutheran churches. A comparable service, with a wholly different ritual form and texts, exists in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as in the Methodist Church.

The Mass and its settings draw their name from the introit of the liturgy, which begins with the words “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). The Roman Missal as revised in 1970 employs this phrase as the first entrance antiphon among the formulas for Masses for the dead, and it remains in use to this day.

The full text of the Requiem Mass in Latin and English can be found here:

The Messa da Requiem for four soloists, double choir and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired. The first performance, at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, marked the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. The work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem. Although originally composed for liturgical purposes, in modern days it is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it: “Probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since the compilation of Mozart’s Requiem.”

After Gioachino Rossini’s death in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini’s honour. He began the effort by submitting the concluding movement, the “Libera me”. During the next year a “Messa per Rossini” was compiled by Verdi and twelve other famous Italian composers of the time. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini’s death.

However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. Verdi blamed this on the scheduled conductor, Angelo Mariani. He pointed to Mariani’s lack of enthusiasm for the project, even though he had been part of the organising committee from the start, and it marked the beginning of the end of their friendship. The piece fell into oblivion until 1988, when Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete “Messa per Rossini” in Stuttgart, Germany.

In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his “Libera me”, frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini’s life would not be performed in his lifetime. On 22 May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem (this time entirely of his own writing) for Manzoni. Verdi travelled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the “Libera me” originally composed for Rossini.

Here is a great and dramatic performance of the Requiem with Herbert von Karajan conducting La Scala Orchestra and Chorus of Milano with Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto and Nikolai Ghiaurov.
0:00:32 Requiem
0:08:43 Dies Irae
0:10:55 Tuba Mirum
0:12:58 Mors Stupebit
0:14:19 Liber Scriptus
0:19:23 Quid Sum Miser
0:23:13 Rex Tremendae
0:26:44 Recordare
0:31:05 Ingemisco
0:34:45 Confutatis
0:40:24 Lacrymosa
0:46:05 Offertorio
0:56:53 Sanctus
0:59:51 Agnus Dei
1:04:32 Lux Aeterna
1:10:45 Libera Me

Thursday 22 January 2015


“God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger.” – Heraclitus

We have been experiencing some quite hot weather in Melbourne, so on the menu we have had cooling foods. Lots of salads, cheese and vegetable sandwiches, jellies, sorbets and yoghurt! Yoghurt is such a versatile food and it can contribute positively to a healthful diet, assist in gastrointestinal health and substitute as a low calorie alternative to many high calorie foods (e.g. salad dressing, mayonnaise, cream, custard, etc).

The recipe below is a very rapidly prepared dessert that tastes delicious, is cooling and healthful as well.

Ripe, Summer stone fruits in season, stoned and chopped into cubes
Vanilla low fat yoghurt (other flavours or plain, according to taste)
Blackberry jam (if you’ve saved some from last Autumn that you’ve made yourself you get extra brownie points!)
Quantities as you please, depending on the number of cups you wish to make.

Place a couple of heaped tablespoons of fruit cubes in a serving cup.
Add enough yoghurt to cover the fruit and top with a tablespoon of blackberry jam.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

Wednesday 21 January 2015


“Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling.

Word for Thesaurus Thursday today is:

Kafkaesque |ˌkäfkəˈesk| adjective
characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.

Franz Kafka was born July 3rd, 1883, Prague, Czech Republic and died June 3rd, 1924, Kierling, near Vienna, Austria. He was a German-language writer of visionary and often confronting fiction, whose posthumously published novels - especially Der Prozess (1925; The Trial) and Das Schloss (1926; The Castle)—express the anxieties and alienation of 20th-century man.

In The Trial the hero, Joseph K, is an able and conscientious bank official who is awakened by bailiffs intent on arresting him. The investigation in the magistrate’s court turns into a farce, the charge against him never defined. Joseph K. tries desperately to a search for inaccessible courts and for an acquittal from his unknown offence. It is Kafka’s blackest work with evil omnipresent and an acquittal or a redemption impossible. The frenzied effort of Joseph K to attain these indicates man's real impotence in the face of the demands of modern society.

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung, also sometimes translated as The Transformation) is a novella, first published in 1915. It has been cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century and is studied in colleges and universities across the Western world. The story begins with a travelling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed (metamorphosed) into a large, monstrous insect-like creature. The cause of Samsa’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. The rest of Kafka’s novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repulsed by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become.

The Castle (German: Das Schloss, later also Das Schloß) is a novel published in 1926. In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work, but suggested it would end with K. dying in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there”. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

You may be interested in a film by Steven Soderbergh, Kafka (1991), that is a curious beast -a mixture of fiction and biography of Kafka’s life, starring Jeremy Irons; and Orson Welles’ TheTrial 1962, which is a film version of Kafka’s dark masterpiece.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” - Oscar Wilde

Doing some cleaning up in my study yesterday I came across a volume of poems by ancient Roman poet Catullus. His explicit writing style has shocked many readers and hence his poems have often been bowdlerised, edited, expurgated or even completely forbidden for many years in many countries. This concept of “forbidden literature” occupies my blog today and what better place to start with than the Vatican Library? The Vatican is an independent country (the smallest in the world, in fact) and it is there that the Pope has absolute temporal rule but also rules spiritually over millions upon millions of Roman Catholics the world over.

The Pope is of course the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, but he also has to manage the Vatican and its affairs like any other Head of State does. The Vatican Bank has millions upon millions of dollars in funds as befits an organisation with worldwide interests and the Pope is its nominal owner. The Pope is also the nominal owner of the Vatican Library. This, unlike the Vatican Bank, is a place that fascinates me and induces bouts of intellectual salivation in my brain. It is one of the richest libraries in the world as well as one of the oldest! It has accumulated works on its shelves from the fourth century AD, recording not only details of its own history but also those of heretical Christians and Gnostic sects. Although it officially claims that everything before the ninth century was lost “for reasons not entirely known”, the majority of the material still exists. However, access to much of this material is strictly controlled.

In fact the Vatican Archives contain one of the richest storehouses of “forbidden literature” in the world. There is more satanic, occult, pornographic and heretical works here than in any other library in the world. While some of the collections of the Vatican Library have been open to the public since the fifteenth century, the cardinal in charge of the institution ensures that all of the “forbidden literature” is kept hidden.

The Papal Inquisition brought many new titles into the secret collection, but it was the creation of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum that gave the biggest boost to the Vatican Library’s secret section. Under the Index, copies of any heretical, satanic, occult or pornographic works discovered were immediately lodged with the Pope’s librarians “for the record”. The situation has been that even legitimate Catholic scholars find access to many of these classified books difficult. Control is achieved through not indexing material because it is obvious that you cannot request what you do not know exists.

On another side of the library are the archives of Papal and Church papers. It takes real confidence in your power to keep buried what you do not want others to know, and call your repository of suppressed papers and documents the “Vatican Secret Archives”. Headed up by a cardinal in the same way that the Vatican Library is, the Secret Archives are home to everything the Church wants kept in the dark, including Nazi collaboration and scandals dating back to the earliest periods in its history. Vast, purposefully disorganised and running to more than 24 miles of shelves, the Archives are only open to those with direct approval from the Pope.

Throughout history, fiction has always been scrutinised by censors. Whether it be themes of politics, religion, or it just has a lot of sex in it, people the world over have objected to a book and have reacted against an author at one time or another. But, in today’s society we can now read about complex themes of heavy handed governments, violence, and drugs without the fear of being tapped on the shoulder by the censor. Here is an example of what in the past (or in some cases even today in some countries!) is considered “unwholesome” or “unsuitable” for general consumption by the reading public.
Brave New World By Aldous Huxley (1932);
The Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck (1939);
Tropic Of Cancer By Henry Miller (1934);
Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut (1969);
The Satanic Verses By Salman Rushdie (1988);
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower By Stephen Chobsky (1999);
Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe (1958);
American Psycho By Brett Easton Ellis (1991);
The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka (1915);
Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov (1955).

Many more such “banned books” exist and the Wikipedia list with places where they are banned and the reason why they are banned is quite interesting to read.

Monday 19 January 2015


“Yesterday is but today’s memory, tomorrow is today’s dream.” Kahlil Gibran

For Literary Tuesday, I am giving you a poem by the Italian poet Vittorio Sereni (my free translation):

Your Memory Within me

Your memory within me is only a rustle
Of bicycles which go quietly,
There, where the height of noon
Descends to the most flaming of evenings,
Between houses and gates
And the sighing slopes
Of windows open to the Summer.
Alone and distant within me is the sound
Of the lament of trains leaving,
Of souls as they depart.
And there, light as a wisp of smoke carried by the wind,
You vanish in the twilight.

Vittorio Sereni (1913-1983)

And the original (please feel free to emend my translation):

In me il tuo ricordo

In me il tuo ricordo è un fruscío
solo di velocipedi che vanno
quietamente là dove l’ altezza
del meriggio discende
al piú fiammante vespero
tra cancelli e case
e sospirosi declivi
di finestre riaperte sull’ estate.
Solo, di me, distante
dura un lamento di treni,
d’ anime che se ne vanno.

E là leggiera te ne vai sul vento
ti perdi nella sera.

               (Out of “Poesie” published in Florence in 1942).

Vittorio Sereni was born in Luino, Italy on the 27th of July 1913. He lived in Brescia and then in Milan where he graduated in Italian literature in 1936. 
During his university years he joined a group of young intellectuals who acknowledged the philosopher Antonio Banfi as their “guiding light”. 
Sereni was one of the founders of the review Corrente (in 1938) and he also collaborated with Campo di Marte and Frontespizio. In 1941 he published his first book of poetry, entitled “Frontiera”. He was called up by the army and he was first sent to Greece and then to Sicily. Taken prisoner on the 24th of July 1943 he spent two years in prisoner of war camps in Algeria and Morocco.

From these experiences he drew both material and inspiration for his second book of verse, published in 1947 with the explicative title of “Diario D’ Algeria”. 
After the war he worked as a teacher, at the same time collaborating with the paper Milano Sera as a literary critic. In 1952 he joined the Pirelli Company. Only a few years later he joined the Mondadori Publishing House as literary director, an appointment he held until his death on the 10th of February 1983.

He published Gli Strumenti Umani (1965) and his last collection entitled Stella Variabile appeared in 1981. 
Vittorio Sereni is acknowledged as being the founder of the current of poets that calls itself Linea Lombarda, taking its name from an anthology of poems by Luciano Anceschi published in 1952. This group proposed to “once more find certain threads interrupted or concealed, to reconstruct ties lost” in this way trying to retrieve the relationship between poetry and reality.

Biography and poems - Italian page

Sunday 18 January 2015


“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.”  ~ Yiddish Proverb

For Movie Monday, today, a classic Peter Sellers comedy. I remember seeing this movie when I was a child of 10, and even then enjoying it so much that it made me laugh till I cried. I have seen the film a few times since then and always derived the same enjoyment from it. It is Blake Edwards’ The Party of 1968. This is classic Sellers in one of his best roles. He doesn’t need to speak, his gestures, his mannerisms, his glance, his hands all act magnificently and when he does speak, he makes one dissolve into a cascade of laughter.

Sellers plays Mr Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian film extra who has been employed to play the bit role of a dying bugler in a big budget costume war epic. During the making of the film, which we see in the first few shots, he manages to wreak havoc and cause several hundreds of thousands dollars damage. Even though he is polite and well-intentioned, his ill-starred bumbling attempts at making things better create even bigger problems for the film crew. Finally, he is given the sack, but an error back in Hollywood results in Mr Bakshi being invited to an exclusive Hollywood party instead of being blacklisted.

The movie mainly concerns Mr Bakshi’s (mis)adventures at the party and his encounters with all sorts of Hollywood stereotypes, but how refreshingly! There are directors and starlets, a cowboy and many socialites, bright young things and lecherous men, an ingénue, a caged bird (“Birdy-num-num!” ;-) and when you thought you had seen everything a painted elephant appears…

Although the film is riotous, prima facie, it is a rich satire of the film world of Hollywood of the 60s and there is a warm and tender message hidden in its superficial farce-like action. It is about culture clash, the herd instinct and the desire to fit into a culture one admires (whether or not it is really worthy of admiration!), it is about snobbishness, and contempt of one’s fellow man. The direction is wonderful and I’m sure Blake Edwards and Sellers were paying homage to Jacques Tati’s  comedies and were aspiring to that great director’s work. Closer to the present time, watching this movie one understands that Mr Bean’s frolics obviously owe a lot to this movie.

If you haven’t seen it go and get it and watch it, NOW! Even after watching it many times, I still laugh till it hurts!